Protests are one of the many ways that people can make change happen. One can see it from the peaceful protests in South Korea to impeach their president Park Gun-hye to the more violent protests such as Ferguson, Missouri in the US over the shooting of Michael Brown. While some protests can be small others can cause huge changes in a country and can be remembered for years to come. The Kwangju and Tiananmen Square massacres started off as innocent protests but soon turned deadly due to government actions. These two massacres may be remembered differently by their governments today but looking at the history behind them, there are a strange number of similarities.
On October 26 1979 South Korean President Park Chung-hee was assassinated at a gisaeng (a kind place to get entertained) house in Seoul. Park Chung-hee was a former general in South Korea who rose to power by a military coup in 1961, like Syngman Rhee, Park was very authoritarian and work hard to control the press, universities, and freedom of the South Korean citizens (Han). He ruled over South Korea until Kim Jae-kyu, director of the central intelligence assassinated him. The next day martial law was declared and the following rules were implemented, the parliament was to be disbanded, public meetings were banned unless for a funeral, and political speech gatherings were prohibited. Even though these rules were implemented many South Koreans were optimistic that change would occur since there was now a civilian acting as president. However that hope was short lived when General Chun Doo – Hwan, who was in charge of investigating the previous president murder, brought troops to the Department of defense building in Seoul and began arresting his fellow generals on the charges of complicity in the assassination. He ended up gaining power by doing this and became in charge, the president at the time Choi Kyu-hah became just a figurehead. In the following days General Chun extended the martial law to the whole country and made it clear that any form of dissent would not be tolerated, he sent police squads into the homes of potential opponents such as political leaders, pro-democracy supporters, and student organizers.
On May 15th thousands of students marched on Seoul Station wanting reform, but two days later they were greeted with even more restrictions such as universities closing down, and the arrests of hundreds of students and political opponents. Students who were angered by these restrictions went to the gate of Chonnam University to protest only to meet up with paratroopers, the students ended up marching into the downtown area of Kwanju attracting more supports as they went. When they reached the downtown area they were greeted with even more troopers, the troopers charged into the crowds and began hitting and beating the protestors. 29 year old Kim Gyeong-cheol would become the first causality as a result of this. On April 15th 1989 Hu Yaobang passed away due to a heart attack, this was the beginning of protests that would soon lead to the Tiananmen Massacre. Hu Yaobang served as a General Secretary of the Communist Party in China, he advocated rehabilitation of those persecuting during the Cultural Revolution, rapprochement with Japan, as well as social and economic reforms.
He also allowed and even encouraged student protests in late 1986, however this lead to him being kicked out of office in 1987. After his death in 1989 the media only briefly mentioned his death and did not intend give him a state funeral, the news of this spread causing students to take action. Thousands of students march to Tiananmen Square in protest, which cause the government to crack under the pressure and give him a state funeral. However the government made the situation worse by refusing to meet with delegation of student petitioners, and even though the funeral service did take place the students were angered by the fact that the government had refused their petitions. The students felt more empowered because the government had refrained from cracking down on them and had even given into their demands for the funeral of Hu Yaobang., this lead to continued protests as their chants strayed from approved texts.
After this the government, more specifically Deng Xiaoping, began to label the protest as “dongluan (meaning rioting or turmoil) by a tiny minority” this was another mistake that the government for one major reason. The reason was because these terms were associated with the atrocities that occurred during the Cultural Revolution, and the students felt they couldn’t back down because of fear of persecution. The government also felt like it couldn’t back down as well because Xiaoping staked both his reputation and the governments by arguing the students would back down first. This led to the stand down between the government and the students and the question who would “back down first?” On May 13th the students began a hunger strike, this led a government official Zhao trying to convince his fellow officials to retract and to accede to their demands, however he was kicked out of his position and placed under house arrest. Later on he went to talk to the students personally, he apologized to the students and urged them to give up and go home to eat. He was quoted saying “Students, we came too late. We are sorry….
. All I want to say is that students are getting very weak… you can’t continue like this”. This helped to ease the tensions between the students and the government, leading to some students to leave the protest. Hard-liners refused to leave however and called for other protesters to stay strong until the National People’s Congress which would take place on June 20th.
One May 30ths the students built a statue called the “Goddess of Liberty” which would later become the symbol of the protest, it was modeled after the United States’ Statue of Liberty. On June 2nd the government agreed to send in the “People’s Liberation Army” to clear up the protestors after hearing the cries for a prolonged protest. On May 18 1980 hundreds of students went to the gate of Chonnam University in Gyungju only to meet with paratroopers who had been sent to keep them off the campus. The troopers began to charge at the students with clubs and the students at the time retaliated by throwing rocks at them.
The students marched downtown to Kwangju gaining more supporters in their wake, by May 20th there were more than 10,000 people protesting downtown. The protesters fought off the police throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, that same day the army brought in 3000 more soldiers with clubs, bayonets, tear gas, and live ammunition. The soldiers shot around 20 girls at Kwangju Central High School and slaughtered the students who were sheltered at the Catholic Center. Troops would shoot dead anyone who help. Ambulance and cab drivers who tried to take the wounded to hospitals were shot”. On May 21st the violence reached its height as soldiers fired rounds into the crowds, following this the local citizens began to break into police stations and armories , taking with them rifles, machine guns and carbines. When police officers refused to help the army, they ended up getting beaten for trying to assist the injured.
Captured protestors had their hands bound behind them with barbed wire and many were then executed. On May 22nd the army had fully pull out from the city of Kwangju but not before leaving before a wave of death. Many students and other professionals helped care for the wounded, provided funerals for the dead, compensated victims and cooked meals for the city. Word of the massacre spread through Korea and more protests broke out throughout the country in places such as Mokpo, Gangjin, Hwasun and Yeongam. However this victory in Kwangju was short lived because on May 27th the military stormed downtown Kwangju, normal students and citizens would try to block the soldiers way by lying in the middle of the streets and armed citizens prepared for another firefight. After about 2 hours of fighting the army seized control of the city.An On June 3rd 1989 the People’s Liberation Army marched into Tiananmen Square and began firing tear gas to try and disperse the protestors, as they had orders not to shoot the protestors. Many students, workers and ordinary citizens joined together to repel the soldiers, they put burned out buses to make barricades and began to throw rocks and bricks at the soldiers.
The first casualties ended up being the soldiers when the protesters burned tank crews alive inside their own tanks. After this incident the protest leaders had to make a difficult decision on whether to remain and continue the protest or evacuate before any more blood could be shed, most of the protestors in the end decided to stay and stand their ground. That same night more soldiers entered the Square with rifles fixed with bayonets and tanks, and began firing randomly into the crowds. Many rickshaw drivers and bicyclists ran in and out of this battle field rescuing the wounded and taking them to hospitals, however in the mist of all this chaos many non-protesters ending up becoming the victims of friendly fire. Throughout June 3rd and June 4th the army beat, bayoneted, and shot protesters. Tanks drove into the crowds and crushed protestors in their way, bicycles became scrap metal under the enormous tanks. By June 4th Tiananmen Square had been cleared out by the troopers.( VOA) Afterward the city became quiet with the occasional sounds of gunfire in the background, many parents of the student protestors tried to push their way into the protest area to look for their children only to be ignored , or shot by the soldiers.
Not only were the parents shot down but doctors and drivers who tried to enter the area to help the wounded also found themselves being shot down by the People’s Liberation army. On June 5th a young man stepped out onto the streets carrying shopping bags and had stopped the tanks from continuing forward. The tanks tried swerve and go around the man however this man refused to let the tanks pass, onlookers watched wondering if the man was going to be flattened by the tanks. He eventually climbed on top of the tanks and began yelling “Why are you here? You have caused nothing but misery”. He was then taken away and his fate is reportedly still unknown to this day, however he has become known around the world as Tank Man thanks to the foreign photographers and journalists who were present on that day. This act of defiance inspired other areas of the world such as the Baltic States (which cause the Soviet Empire to break away and the USSR to eventually collapse). The government released a statement stating that around 160 people had been killed in the “uprising”, however a census count revealed that almost 2000 people had disappeared during this time frame. A small number of students were buried, while “eye witnesses tell seeing hundreds of bodies just dumped in mass graves on the outskirts of the city”.
After the horrific massacre that occurred in Kwangju the Chin administration had lost legitimacy in the eyes of Korean citizens. Throughout the 1980s many pro-democracy protests and demonstrations looked back at the Kwangju Massacre and demanded punishment for those responsible. General Chun held onto his presidential position until 1988 when the pressure from citizens led to him holding the first democratic elections. A politician from Kwangju, Kim Dae-Jung, who was supposed to be sentenced to death was released and ran for president, although he did not win this election he did become president in 1998. President Chun was sentenced to death in 1996 on the charges of corruption and his role in the mass, however his sentenced was reduced when Dae-Jung took office . The Kwanju massacre marked a very important turning point in South Korea as the beginning of a long struggle for democracy. It took almost 10 years after the massacre to show this but it “paved the way for free and fair elections” in South Korea. Sadly nobody knows the official number of people who had died at Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese government’s figure is estimated at around 241 people but between the soldiers, students, and civilians it is an instatement. The Red Cross put the total at around 2,600 but retracted the number due to the intense pressure of the Chinese government, eye witnesses also stated that “the PLA carted away many bodies that they would not have been able to include in a hospital count”. Protesters who managed to survive the massacre at Tiananmen Square, faced many difficulties shortly after. Student protestors, particularly leaders, were given jail time up to 10 years, while the professors and other workers were blacklisted unable to find jobs. Large numbers of citizens were executed after but the official numbers are unknown. Ever since then the political anger has been silenced in China, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre itself has become a taboo topic. Many people who are a part of the younger generations have not even heard of it and websites that mention it are blocked in China.
(VOA) On June 3rd 2015 the 25th anniversary of the protest has come and the Chinese government is working hard to detained activist and censor the subject on the internet . In Hong Kong however the activists remember the incident and gather every year to mourn for the victims, Richard Choi from Hong Kong’s Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Movement explained “that the group’s work will remain unfinished until the Chinese government revises it explanation of the event”. Many of the activists who still gather today hope that one day China will face this piece of history and acknowledge what has happened.While protests can be dangerous sometimes they can change what’s going on in the world for the better as seen in South Korea, and even though in China nothing has really changed, there is still hope that one day the massacre will be acknowledged by the Chinese government so long as the citizens in Hong Kong remember and teach the younger generations. Overall though looking back at their history one can see many similarities between the two massacres and how they affected their countries